On Wednesday, Ohio’s Republican governor Mike DeWine signed a new bill into law prohibiting public officials from shutting down houses of worship across the state despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, DeWine stated that he did not plan on calling for houses of worship to be shut down, he did, however, postpone the state’s March primaries, a move that earned him widespread criticism. Under the new legislation, postponement of elections will not be permitted.
Sen. Terry Johnson, a co-sponsor of the bill, explained to Cincinnati Fox affiliate WXIX that he is thankful that the state is protecting religious freedom unlike other states that have imposed forced closures on religious communities.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen several states encroach on Americans’ First Amendment right of worship and assembly, disregarding it completely by forcing the closure of places of worship and religious institutions,” the state Senator said. “While I am thankful that no such order was imposed in Ohio, this amendment is a preemptive step should we ever find ourselves in this situation again.”
According to the Huffington Post, the vote was mainly split between both Republicans and Democrats in the State legislature, where the majority of Democrats were in opposition to the bill.
While houses of worship were not asked to close, church members still have to comply with the state’s mask mandate issued by Governor DeWine in July.
Church leaders from The Ohio Christian Alliance, however, oppose the mandate and have called on the governor to exempt churches from wearing masks during services, The Columbus Dispatch reports.
“There’s no reason for a health department to be calling a church for what they’re doing in their sanctuary during worship,” said Alliance President Chris Long. “This is a First Amendment issue.”
At the time of this writing, the Ohio Department of Health had reported more than 130,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and over 4,200 deaths.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.